Auston Matthews is set to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup for Monday’s game against the New York Rangers.
The superstar centre did not play in the first three games of the season while recovering from August 16 wrist surgery. But when noting that Matthews would miss the first three games, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was confident that Matthews would return soon.
“He’s not very far away here. Our most important thing right now is to make sure he is 100% comfortable,” said Keefe.
In Matthews’ absence, John Tavares skated at centre on Toronto’s top line, between Nick Ritchie and Mitch Marner. While that trio did create chances, Tavares and Marner both have just one point through three games.
Naturally, with Auston Matthews back in the lineup, the Maple Leafs will shuffle their forward lines.
Tavares will slide to his more familiar spot on the second line with William Nylander and Michael Bunting on the wings. That drops Alexander Kerfoot to left wing on the third line with David Kampf and Ondrej Kase. Pierre Engvall moves to the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds. Michael Amadio appears to be bumped from the active lineup, based on Sunday’s practice.
Matthews led the league with 41 goals in 52 games last season. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin is the only player with more goals than Matthews’ 199 goals since he arrived in the league in the 2016-2017 season.
Matthews had a 53.9 CF% and 59.8 xGF% last season, a tangible indication of how well the Leafs control play with him on the ice. The eye test matches those numbers.
Toronto’s defense may be in a more challenging spot. Jake Muzzin missed Sunday’s practice as a maintenance day, according to Keefe. Justin Holl, who missed Saturday’s game due to cold symptoms, was still out. Holl’s PCR test was negative but was still not feeling well. If he can not play Monday, Timothy Liljegren can fill in, as he did Saturday against Ottawa.